LONDON — It began final week when the host of the BBC’s morning present mocked a cupboard minister, Robert Jenrick, for the Union Jack hanging conspicuously behind him, subsequent to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The flag, the host cracked, was not “as much as standard-size authorities interview measurements.”
The host, Charlie Stayt, and his co-host, Naga Munchetty, who chuckled alongside, have been shortly in scorching water. After the BBC got here below hearth for disrespecting the British flag, each have been reprimanded. Ms. Munchetty apologized for liking “offensive” Twitter posts that joined within the mockery of the minister’s flag.
By no means one to duck a culture-war skirmish, the Conservative authorities of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seized on the flag flap to attempt to hold opponents on the defensive and the dissolution of the UK at bay.
On Wednesday, it decreed that, henceforth, the Union Jack ought to fly on all authorities buildings day-after-day of the yr, slightly than merely on designated days. The one exception will probably be regional holidays when, say, the Scottish flag, the Saltire, would fly in Scotland on St. Andrew’s Day.
“Our nation’s flag is an emblem of liberty, unity and freedom that creates a shared sense of civic delight,” stated an unbowed Mr. Jenrick. “Folks rightly count on to see the Union flag flying excessive on civic and authorities buildings up and down the nation as an indication of our native and nationwide identification.”
The federal government, in its revised guidance on flags, famous that in america, the Stars and Stripes flies year-round, not simply on federal buildings but in addition at colleges and in entrance of polling locations. Likewise in Australia, the nationwide flag may be flown day-after-day of the yr from federal and state parliaments.
Britons are usually much less demonstrative about their flag than the residents of their former colonies. In contrast to Individuals, they not often grasp it in entrance of their houses. The Union Jack arouses ambivalent feelings amongst some on the left, who affiliate it with Britain’s imperial previous, and in components of the UK, significantly Scotland, the place pro-independence emotions run sturdy.
That, in fact, is exactly the purpose for a authorities that’s determined to avert one other referendum on independence for Scotland after elections there in Could wherein the Scottish Nationwide Get together is anticipated to win a powerful mandate.
The destiny of the UK apart, the flag furor is a helpful culture-war subject to maintain the federal government’s adversaries, actual or perceived — such because the opposition Labour Get together or the BBC — on the defensive. Whether or not the dispute is over the lyrics of patriotic songs or revisionist views of historic figures like Winston Churchill, Mr. Johnson and his allies not often miss an opportunity to wield patriotism as a cudgel.
A number of days after the BBC hosts apologized, their boss, Tim Davie, was taken to task by a Conservative lawmaker, James Wild, for not publishing a picture of the Union Jack within the broadcaster’s 268-page annual report.
“Do you discover that stunning?” Mr. Wild requested, to which Mr. Davie replied, “No, I believe that’s an odd metric.”
A former advertising and marketing govt who was chosen due to his capacity to get together with the federal government, Mr. Davie identified that the BBC promotes Britain worldwide. The Union Jack, he stated, flew proudly from its London headquarters.
Critics on Twitter misplaced no time lampooning the brand new reverence for the flag. They coined an off-color hashtag and attributed it to unhealthy nationalism, post-Brexit insecurity or cynical politics.
“This can be very ‘20th Century’ of me,” posted Simon Fraser, previously the senior civil servant on the International Workplace, “however I do fear when politicians begin getting obsessive about flags.”
Danny Wallace, a comic, stated it was like “watching a rustic in a midlife disaster.”
“We left our accomplice, stated we’d be higher off, then our new relationship didn’t work out, so we misinform everyone about how nice we’re doing after which get a tattoo,” he posted.
Clare Hepworth, a commerce unionist, quoted Bill Moyers, a broadcaster and former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who as soon as stated of politicians who brandish flags, “They’re counting in your patriotism to distract you from their plunder.”
And, in fact, it was one other Johnson, Samuel, who within the 18th century famously stated, “patriotism is the final refuge of the scoundrel.”
At a time when the federal government is successful broad public assist for its coronavirus vaccine rollout — the nation’s largest mass mobilization since World Battle II — a manufactured row over flags may appear pointless.
The Labour Get together is already struggling the political equal of oxygen deprivation, its leaders reluctant to criticize Mr. Johnson throughout an all-consuming well being emergency. However within the acrid aftermath of Brexit, analysts say that the prime minister has calculated that stoking these points nonetheless has a political payoff.
Final summer season, Mr. Johnson criticized the BBC for proposing to air two beloved patriotic songs with out their lyrics as a result of they evoked a colonial previous that’s at odds with the values of the Black Lives Matter motion.
“It’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our historical past, about our traditions, and about our tradition,” Mr. Johnson stated indignantly. The BBC backed down, and one of many songs, “Rule, Britannia!,” was sung with phrases.
On Monday, the prime minister is scheduled to carry his first information convention from a White Home-style briefing room in 10 Downing Avenue, outfitted at a reported cost of 2.6 million pounds, or about $3.5 million. He will probably be flanked by no fewer than 4 Union Jacks.